BY JOE RINI
Six months after Jose Reyes trotted off the field in the first inning of his last game as a Met, he returned to the scene of his prime, playing his first game against the New York Mets as a Miami Marlin Tuesday night at Citifield.
The Mets rallied to win 2 to 1 against the Marlins and Reyes was robbed of a first inning extra base hit, making it a perfect night for the Mets faithful.
As the temperature cooled during the night, so did the reception for Reyes, who was greeted mostly by cheers in his first at bat but by increasingly vehement boos from the crowd of 20,192 as the game continued.
Reyes was hitless in four at bats as Johan Santana as bounced back from a poor performance last week, and pitched into the seventh inning, allowing only one run and striking out 11 Marlins.
Coming on a day where the Mets learned Mike Pelfrey may need season ending elbow surgery and that Jason Bay needed to be disabled for a fractured rib, manager Terry Collins called Santana’s performance “tremendous” as it the steadied the team after losing 5 of its previous 6 games.
Leading off the game, Reyes’ first at bat proved to be one of the key moments of the game. Swinging early in the count, he drove the ball deep into centerfield when rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis made a leaping catch against the wall robbing Reyes of an extra base hit, a play Terry Collins later called “huge.”
After allowing a single to the next batter, Santana kept the Marlins off balance as he retired 19 of the next 21 batters until a single by Giancarlo Stanton and a double by Gaby Sanchez in the seventh inning lead to the Marlins first run.
Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson matched Santana as he also pitched into the seventh inning striking out nine Mets, but four consecutive walks by four different Marlins pitchers allowed the Mets to tie the score in the seventh inning.
Batting in the eighth inning, after singles by Nieuwenheis and Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda smashed a single off the pitching hand of Marlins reliever Edward Mujica driving in Nieuwenheis with the game winning hit. Reliever Jon Rausch won his third game after a scoreless eighth inning and Frank Francisco picked up save number four.
For several generations of Mets fans, Reyes became the latest Mets icon to return in the uniform of the opposition.
Thirty-five summers ago, the loyalties of Mets fans were conflicted as Tom Seaver aka “The Franchise,” returned to Shea Stadium to battle the Mets on a Sunday afternoon in August as a member of the Cincinnati Reds two months after disagreements with ownership lead to a bitter parting. Seaver was dominant that day, striking out 11 en route to a complete game 5-1 victory which even included Seaver doubling and scoring twice.
Fourteen years later in 1991, the emotions might have been less loving but the passions more heated as Darryl Strawberry returned to Shea Stadium on May 7. The Mets jumped out to an early 6 to 0 lead and even after a two run home run by Strawberry, the Mets still had a comfortable three run lead in the ninth inning with two outs but after an error and two infield hits, there stood Darryl Strawberry batting as the potential go ahead run until John Franco induced a forceout for the final out and a 6 to 5 Mets victory.
More recently in 2006, Mike Piazza departed quietly for the San Diego Padres and saved the drama for his second game back in New York. Piazza was greeted by the fans like a long lost relative as they warmly cheered him when he homered off of Pedro Martinez in the fourth inning. One home run later, Piazza nearly became the unwanted house guest who refused to leave when he launched a potential game tying third home run in the eighth inning only to see his blast caught deep in centerfield.
How will the latest Mets icon fare after leaving the swirling winds of Flushing for the sun and fun of South Beach? If history is any guide, Reyes may already have seen his best days as a player.
While Seaver’s departure and 1977 was the start of a dismal period in Mets history, it was also Seaver’s last 20 win season. For Strawberry, the personal problems nipping at his heels began to overtake him, and while he was a valuable role player for the New York Yankees later in the decade, 1991 was his last truly superstar season. For Piazza, a potential date with the Mets in the 2006 NLCS was dashed by the Cardinals defeating the Padres in the NLDS and he retired one year later.
However, Reyes is younger than his predecessors and he will be playing for a division rival where his performance positive or negative will directly impact the Mets. Signing Reyes was a risk for any team – the balky hamstring injuries come along with his dynamism. The standings and the box scores will determine whether the Mets breathe a sigh of relief over not resigning Reyes or bemoan a missed opportunity.